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May 25, 2006

Shouting doesn't help

Stephen Potter tells a funny story about a person shouting at a speech recognition system, and why that generally doesn't help with recognition issues.  For the people reading this who are not in the business, I'll explain a bit.

When you encounter a telephone speech recognition system and it doesn't understand you, there is a good chance that what you said was recorded and saved in a database.  Reports are generated that (if looked at) will tell the designer where people seem to be having problems, and then the designer can go back and listen to individual recordings of people actually trying and failing to be understood.  Often we hear the person coughing, or talking to the dog or something like that.  Sometimes they just misunderstood the prompt and said something that we weren't expecting, and that can be a help in improving the prompt or changing the system to recognize what was actually said.

When I started in this business, everything was touch-tone, but you could still get clues about the application by "service observing the call".  People often talked to the touch-tone systems but by that point they usually were not being very nice.  I DO NOT WANT TO PRESS STAR TO HEAR THE MENU AGAIN, I WANT TO TALK TO A #@!@ PERSON YOU STUPID MACHINE! was a pretty common phrase.

When speech recognition capabilities first appeared commercially, their recognition ability was limited to recognizing the numbers zero through nine and the words yes, no, and oh.  A few years later we had the ability to build very limited vocabularies ourselves of words like Sales, Service and Operator.  We soon learned to include synonyms for words like Operator, so that if a person said agent or human we could still understand them and transfer them to a person.

I believe there was a market for a vocabulary of all the words and phrases that a person might say when they are frustrated with talking to a machine, but sadly we never built that product.  So to paraphrase Stephen, yelling and cursing at the machine may make you feel better but it won't help get you to a person any faster.

May 25, 2006 in Speech Recognition | Permalink


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Check out the video of this humorous conversation between Dave and HAL's evil sister: Hallie.


The dialog spoken by Hallie (the computer) is in response to Voice Recognition commands spoken by Dave.

This shows how a human can become frustrated interacting with a computer that demands every command contain the word "Please".

Posted by: J Kandra | May 26, 2006 9:23:59 PM